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In Wyoming, climate change denial and funding for climate-related projects show different stories

Snow capped mountains surrounded by forest.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media

Climate change denial and anti-federal government sentiment are popular talking points in Wyoming as of late. However, data on federal dollars earmarked for climate-related projects in the state show another story.

A new report shows the federal government awarded over a hundred billion dollars to climate-related projects last year. Wyoming is top of the list for most money received per capita at about $2 billion.

“Well over $3,000 per resident, when you divide that number amongst all the folks living in Wyoming,” said Annabelle Rosser, a policy analyst with Atlas Public Policy – a data compiling group that put together the report.

Most of the money is going to the nuclear power plant project in Kemmerer that just broke ground, but also 80 other projects, including carbon storage and rooftop solar programs.

“Wyoming has all these really significant investments in a clean energy economy,” Rosser said. “Maybe despite an uptick in climate denialism.”

At the beginning of this year’s legislative session, the far-right Wyoming Freedom Caucus brought in climate change denialists to speak. While their talking points are largely disputed by the science community, the rhetoric continues to re-surface.

Also, anti-federal government sentiment is huge in Wyoming. The state is currently involved in at least 58 lawsuits against the feds. Just last week, Gov. Mark Gordon announced the state is challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s Public Lands Rule. At recent lawmaker meetings, the common theme is keeping the federal government out of Wyoming’s dealings.

“Despite that rhetoric, a lot of states and companies within those states, they're often not interested in turning down money,” Rosser said.

That could be in part because some view the funding as less about climate change and more about economic development – like revitalizing downtowns and creating jobs.

“Without the federal funding support you wouldn't have the construction jobs, you also just wouldn't have the industry in the technology development,” Rosser said.

This rings true in Kemmerer. The nuclear power plant project is anticipated to bring in 1,600 temporary jobs and around 250 long term jobs. Despite it being in the early stages, the downtown is already seeing new businesses open up.

“If some of these communities decide not to take advantage of federal funding, they stand to fall behind the rest of the country,” she said, in reference to the U.S.’s goal of a cleaner energy future.

Much of this funding is coming from the recent federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

“There's often a lot of hype when the bills and laws are passed, but that's really the start of this funding and making its way to communities into projects in our eyes,” Rosser said.

Rosser said this report helps conceptualize how the money is actually being used. And 2024 should only shed more light on that, Rosser added. Specifically, she’ll be keeping her eye on solar for all programs across the country. In Wyoming, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation received more than $30 million from the IRA this spring.

“It's geared to help low income and middle income households save money on their electric bills by installing rooftop solar,” Rosser said. “I think this is a key example of trying to really democratize access to cost savings that are associated with renewable energy.”

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.

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